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Drunk Driving Defense Law in North Carolina

Drunk driving is a serious offense in North Carolina just as it is in other states. What stands out about North Carolina’s drunk driving laws is how they treat minors. Some states set a blood alcohol level for drivers under the age of 21, the most popular being 0.02. However, North Carolina takes it a step further and takes a literal zero-tolerance stance: Any alcohol found in an underage driver’s system results in a charge with driving while impaired, or DWI. For others, the standard 0.08 is the legal limit and 0.04 is the limit for commercial drivers.

What an Officer Is Looking for in a DWI Stop

Law enforcement in North Carolina is trained to spot drivers operating motor vehicles in an unsafe or questionable manner. If an officer spots a driver weaving in and out of traffic, driving erratically, speeding, going straight in a turning lane, or driving at night without headlights, the officer will attempt to pull the driver over.

Once the officer has stopped the driver, he or she will investigate whether or not there is further proof to charge a driver with DWI. Further signs of impairment could include a driver looking flushed and having a disheveled appearance, breath that smells distinctly like alcohol, and slurred speech. If any of these additional things are observed, an officer can charge the driver with DWI.

Insurance Requirements 

North Carolina does not require SR22 insurance, special coverage for those with DWI convictions are required to carry to drive in certain states, to show financial responsibility. However, insurance rates for those with a DWI are substantially higher. Also for commercial drivers, a DWI conviction can be the end of their driving careers, considering some of the other penalties for a DWI conviction.

Possible Penalties if Convicted

North Carolina has a level system when dealing with DWI convictions for those 21 years and older. There are five levels, with a Level 5 conviction being the least severe and a Level 1 conviction being the most serious. There is also an Aggravated Level 1 that is used for special circumstances such as injuries, death, and extreme impairment. A judge has a lot of leeway in determining the penalties for each level and often takes the person’s previous driving record, history within the court system, and other extenuating circumstances before rendering penalties.

Level 5 convictions include a 30-day license suspension, a $200 fine, and a 24-hour to a 60-day jail sentence. Those who are given probation could also be required to undergo substance abuse assessments. The penalties increase through the levels until Level 1 is reached. Anyone convicted of a DWI Level 1 offense faces a 30-day license suspension, a $4,000 fine, 30 days to 24 months in jail, and possible substance abuse assessment testing. If the charge is Aggravated Level 1, the person faces a $10,000 fine, 12 months to 36 months in jail, monitoring adherence to an alcohol abstinence program, and mandatory substance abuse treatment.

For drivers under 21 the loss of the license for one year can occur if any of the following happens:

  • Buying or trying to buy alcohol
  • Helping someone else buy alcohol
  • Driving with ANY alcohol in their system
  • Using a fake I.D. to buy alcohol
  • Using someone else’s I.D. to buy alcohol

Defending Against the Charges

A DUI attorney will attempt to prove there were errors made when the sobriety test was administered or when the BAC test was given. Another tactic is to show the officer did not have probable cause to pull the vehicle over. A legal professional could also claim that the driver did not realize he or she was impaired, believing that the medication or alcohol ingested previously had left his or her system.